The leader of the state agency devoted to veterans announced Monday he'll spend five days during September on a West Virginia listening tour.
Rick Thompson, cabinet secretary for the state Department of Veterans Assistance, wants to host the community meetings to learn more about the concerns of the state's veteran population.
"In order for veterans to utilize our services, they must be made aware of what our department has to offer. Likewise, if we are to successfully serve the veterans of West Virginia, we must fully understand their most pressing needs," Thompson said in a news release.
Thompson, a veteran and former speaker of the House of Delegates, said he also hopes to meet with as many other veterans as he can during the trip. Anyone is welcome at the meetings, he said.
As of September 2012, more than 175,000 veterans called West Virginia home, according to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics. That's one of the highest per capita rates in the nation.
Nationwide, officials at the state and federal level continue to struggle with providing veteran's benefits in a timely matter and combating a consistently high suicide rates among veterans.
From 2005 to 2011 in West Virginia, the suicide rate for veterans was more than double the rate for "civilians" in the state, according to News21, a journalism project from the Carnegie Corp. and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Any veteran who wants to receive benefits from the national Department of Veterans Affairs must apply through one of the 56 regional benefits offices. The only one in West Virginia is in Huntington.
As of September 2012, on average a veteran who applied for benefits at the Huntington office had to wait 262.4 days before their claim was authorized, according to a report from The Center for Public Integrity. That's better than the 429.6-day national average, but worse than VA's target of 125 days.
The times and dates for Thompson's tour are:
* 1 p.m. Sept. 11, Raleigh County Commission on Aging in Beckley
* 1 p.m. Sept. 12, American Legion Post 177 in Barboursville
* 5 p.m. Sept. 18, Clarksburg VFW Post 573 in Clarksburg
* 4 p.m. Sept. 26, Moundsville American Legion Post 3, Moundsville